Municipal Water Leader Februrary 2019

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Volume 6 Issue 2


February 2019


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Municipal Water Leader is published 10 times a year with combined issues for July/August and November/December by

STAFF: Kris Polly, Editor-in-Chief Joshua Dill, Managing Editor Tyler Young, Writer Nicole E. Venable, Graphic Designer Shelby LaVigna, Web/Graphic Designer


Adding Seawater Desal to Corpus Christi’s Water Portfolio


February 2019 Volume 6, Issue 2 5 On the Frontiers of Desalination By Kris Polly


6 Adding Seawater Desal to Corpus Christi’s Water Portfolio

29 How ROTEC Is Improving Desalination Technology Around the World

12 Brackish Desalination: An Affordable Alternative for Texas


20 Averting Catastrophe, Seizing Opportunity: The Salton Sea Authority

24 Oceanus’s Hybrid PumpedStorage Desalination Facility

33 Eastern Municipal Water District’s Inland Desalination

Do you have a story idea for an upcoming issue? Contact our editor-in-chief, Kris Polly, at


ADVERTISING: Municipal Water Leader accepts one-quarter, half-page, and full-page ads. For more information on rates and placement, please contact Kris Polly at (703) 517-3962 or CIRCULATION: Municipal Water Leader is distributed to irrigation district managers and boards of directors in the 17 western states, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation officials, members of Congress and committee staff, and advertising sponsors. For address corrections or additions, please contact our managing editor, Joshua Dill, at Copyright © 2018 Water Strategies LLC. Municipal Water Leader relies on the excellent contributions of a variety of natural resources professionals who provide content for the magazine. However, the views and opinions expressed by these contributors are solely those of the original contributor and do not necessarily represent or reflect the policies or positions of Municipal Water Leader magazine, its editors, or Water Strategies LLC. The acceptance and use of advertisements in Municipal Water Leader do not constitute a representation or warranty by Water Strategies LLC or Municipal Water Leader magazine regarding the products, services, claims, or companies advertised. MuniWaterLeader


Steve Ramos, Corpus Christi’s water resources manager. Photo courtesy of Corpus Christi.


Coming soon in Municipal Water Leader: March: Disaster Resilience April: Water Recycling on the East Coast

SUBMISSIONS: Municipal Water Leader welcomes manuscript, photography, and art submissions. However, the right to edit or deny publishing submissions is reserved. Submissions are returned only upon request. For more information, please contact our office at (202) 698-0690 or

On the Frontiers of Desalination By Kris Polly


Desalination is one of the most exciting frontiers in municipal water supply. Inland, it promises to unlock new supplies of previously unusable brackish groundwater; on the coast, it provides access to a practically unlimited supply of seawater. In both cases, desalination is quickly becoming a cost-effective alternative to traditional water supplies like surface water and nonbrackish groundwater. This issue of Municipal Water Leader profiles the municipal water managers, inventors, and professionals who are furthering desalination around the United States and the world. In our cover story, we speak with Steve Ramos of the City of Corpus Christi, which is planning two major seawater desalination plants with the help of consultants Freese and Nichols. We also interview Bill Norris, a principal at the engineering consulting firm NorrisLeal. Mr. Norris has three decades of experience in brackish desalination in Texas. Today, his firm is overseeing the construction and operations of several important plants, including a full recovery plant in El Paso that produces no waste product. Phil Rosentrater is the general manager and executive director of the Salton Sea Authority, which seeks to reverse the shrinking of the salty lake and to take advantage of its economic and recreational potential, including that of its geothermal brines. Next, we speak to several innovators in the desalination field. Neal Aronson of Oceanus tells us about his company’s hybrid pumped-storage desalination concept. By pairing a

power facility and a desal plant, Oceanus can deliver cheaper water using environmentally friendly methods. Ben Perlman is the president of Smart Water Group, an American firm that helps further the business of Israeli desalination technology firms like ROTEC. ROTEC has created a simple yet effective flow reversal technology that can significantly boost the recovery rate of reverse osmosis (RO) desalination plants. Finally, we focus on a municipal water supplier that has already successfully incorporated brackish desalination into its water portfolio—and is planning to go even further. When Eastern Municipal Water District of Riverside County, California, adds two new brackish desalination plants to its existing two, it plans to be able to supply 30,000 households with potable water. From California to Texas—and from Israel to Singapore— desalination is on the cutting edge of municipal water supply. Every year, desalination is becoming cheaper, better, and more reliable. We hope you find the stories in this issue of Municipal Water Leader interesting and inspiring. M Kris Polly is editor-in-chief of Municipal Water Leader magazine and president of Water Strategies LLC, a government relations firm he began in February 2009 for the purpose of representing and guiding water, power, and agricultural entities in their dealings with Congress, the Bureau of Reclamation, and other federal government agencies. He may be contacted at






he City of Corpus Christi supplies water to half a million people in Texas’s Coastal Bend region. Its water supplies are derived from surface water from local reservoirs and Texas’s Colorado River. After the drought years of 2011 and 2013, it became apparent that alternative water supplies were needed. With this in mind, Corpus Christi has begun work with the consulting firm Freese and Nichols to develop plans for two potential seawater desalination plants. In this interview, Steve Ramos, the city’s water resources manager, speaks with Municipal Water Leader Editor-inChief Kris Polly about the process of siting and permitting the new plants—and the benefits they could bring to Corpus Christi and the Coastal Bend. Kris Polly: Please tell us about your background and how you ended up in your current position.


Steve Ramos: The City of Corpus Christi has four sources of water. We are a surface water–based utility servicing approximately Steve Ramos. 500,000 people— individual customers, industrial customers, and commercial users—within our region of the Coastal Bend. Our surface water comes from the Nueces River basin, where we have two large reservoirs, Choke Canyon Reservoir and Lake Corpus Christi. Moving eastward, we have a contract with the Lavaca-Navidad River Authority for water out of Lake Texana, which is delivered via the Mary Rose pipeline to our O. N. Stevens Water Treatment Plant. Further eastward, we have a surface water right on the Colorado River itself; we divert that water to our treatment plant via what we refer to as the Mary Rose Phase 2 Component, part of the same pipeline that we use to move our Lake Texana Water. Kris Polly: What is the breakdown of your users? Steve Ramos: Around 36 percent of our water goes to residential customers, 60 percent goes to industrial users, and the rest is commercial. Kris Polly: What motivated Corpus Christi to look into desalination? Steve Ramos: The City of Corpus Christi is the leader in providing water for this region, and as the leader, we need to look at diversifying our water supply and water rights portfolio. We learned that very well in 2011 and 2013, when the drought of record in the Nueces River


Steve Ramos: I am the water resources manager for the City of Corpus Christi. My background is in water. I previously worked for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ ), where I spent 12–13 years working on water rights. I was a project manager with TCEQ working with multiple entities from across the state of Texas on water rights projects and water rights applications; I also worked along with the hydrology team and other members of the permitting process on rulemaking for the state. Around 2011, I was given the opportunity to become the South Texas and Concho water master for TCEQ. I was in charge of overseeing permits and regulations regarding surface water rights for about 50 counties in South Texas. At the same time, I was also in charge of the Concho watermaster area in West Texas. I was in charge of water rights regulations for the state, making sure that water rights holders were abiding by their water rights, working together, and resolving any issues that arose and also making sure that the prior-appropriations doctrine and rules and regulations were being followed. Toward the end of 2016, I was given the opportunity to come work for the City of Corpus Christi as the water resource manager for the city.

Kris Polly: Please tell us about Corpus Christi’s current water portfolio. Where does the city’s water come from?

basin threatened our supplies. The city and its large-volume customers started to take a hard look at diversifying our water portfolio. It is always a good practice as a planner to look at the availability of different water supplies, from groundwater to desalination, but those 2 years really made us focus on the effects of the drought and how we needed to protect our customers by developing a drought-proof or drought-resistant water supply. Kris Polly: Would you tell us about the desalination infrastructure that is now being planned? Steve Ramos: Currently, we are working on the siting and permitting process for two seawater desalination plants. We are looking at two large areas of interest in San Patricio County along the La Quinta Channel and then in an area we call the Corpus Christi ship channel. In those areas, we will focus in on specific sites and particular properties. The plants would produce potable water. This new supply would be integrated into the overall water system, boosting the drought resilience of Corpus Christi’s water supply. The city is currently working with its consultant, Freese and Nichols, to determine the siting and permitting of two seawater desalination plants. Based on that work, we will apply for permits later this year.

Kris Polly: Do you know who you will be working with to design and construct the new plant?

Steve Ramos: We are not at that stage yet in the process. Our consultant right now is Freese and Nichols. The firm is the owner’s representative on the siting and permitting stage of the project. Kris Polly: How much potable water are you expecting the new plants to produce? Steve Ramos: The plant we are planning for the Corpus Christi ship channel would have an ultimate capacity of about 36 million gallons per day (MGD). The plant on the La Quinta Channel side could produce 48 MGD. Kris Polly: How would your desalinated water supplies compare with other water supplies in terms of cost? Steve Ramos: Surface water is the low-hanging fruit of water supply. All you need to do is pump water out of a river and send it to a water treatment plant. But surface water supplies are not drought resistant. In Texas, we work on a prior-appropriations doctrine—first in time, first in right—which reduces our ability to secure our water supplies when we need them most, namely, during those dry times. That is why we need to look at diversifying our portfolio. As technology advances, desalinated water is becoming more affordable and more competitive. We are also doing our due diligence to make sure that our desalinated water

The USS Lexington, docked in Corpus Christi Bay.



The Corpus Christi bayfront.

supply will be as reliable as possible by reducing the risks related to plant location, size, and permitting. At the end of the day, our customers expect us to provide them with a reliable, dependable, drought-proof supply of water; the price of any given water source is just one consideration when pursuing that broader goal. Kris Polly: Please tell us about the challenges of brine disposal and how you foresee that working with your projected plants.


Kris Polly: So you expect to dispose of the brine directly into the ocean? Steve Ramos: Ultimately, we are going to use a diffuser that will spread the brine through the column of water. We are actually required to model how that will work in our application to the state for a disposal permit. That process of modeling will tell us how small or large the cone of floridity will be—the distance from the diffuser at which the brine mixes in to the water and matches the ambient salinity levels. Kris Polly: Would you tell us about public opinion on desalination?


Steve Ramos: Our current project addresses the environmental and technological challenges of brine disposal. We need to make sure that we are stewards of our environment and to integrate the best technologies available into our facilities. Once we decide where our plants are going to be built, we will do research into the characteristics of the local water body. When we have a good understanding of the water chemistry throughout the year, we will be able to plan how to optimize the

desalination process through the year. We will also research the power needs of the plants. Different-sized plants need different amounts of power. We are fortunate in Texas to have access to relatively affordable and available power.

The Corpus Christi ship channel.

Steve Ramos: We do a lot of water conservation outreach in our community, and in my opinion, our community understands that we need a more consistent, reliable water source. Many people here have lived through record droughts and have seen the population grow in our area. They understand the importance of this work. As a steward of the environment and as a citizen of the Coastal Bend, I understand and share concerns that we must ensure that we do not harm the environment. That is why we are doing our due diligence now to make sure that we are siting in the right places and that we can dispose of the brine safely. We are working through the process alongside our community. We are working with our local colleges and universities to do educational programs and to talk about how they can help us and how we can help them. Our desalination facility or facilities will benefit the entire Coastal Bend.

Steve Ramos: My vision for Corpus Christi water is providing reliable, dependable water for our customers. We are a provider of water for multiple growing communities, so we need to make sure that we serve our users in a way that is responsible, both economically and environmentally. M Steve Ramos is the water resources manager at the City of Corpus Christi. He can be contacted at

Kris Polly: Please tell us about your vision for Corpus Christi water going into the future. MUNICIPALWATERLEADER.COM













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Brackish Desalination: An Affordable Alternative for Texas


s an arid state with a rapidly growing population, Texas is in need of alternative water supplies. Since 1988, Bill Norris has been part of the solution. First with his company NRS and now with his current company, NorrisLeal, Mr. Norris has been a pioneer in promoting brackish desalination as a cost-effective alternative water source for Texas’s municipal suppliers. Today, NorrisLeal is a leader in desalination in Texas. In this interview with Municipal Water Leader Managing Editor Joshua Dill, Mr. Norris discusses how he got into the desalination field 30 years ago and the advances that have brought NorrisLeal to where it is today. Joshua Dill: Would you tell us about your background and how you came to be in your current position?


Joshua Dill: Please tell us about NorrisLeal today. Bill Norris: We’re not a large company, with about 25 people, but we’ve done some large projects. I have two other partners, JesÚs Leal and David Pettry. We’ve grown into more than a design engineering company. We actually do design, construction, and operations. We have three offices: one in Austin, one in Harlingen, and a project office in El Paso where we constructed and now operate a concentrate-reuse facility. We are also working on a brackish desalination plants in Cinco Ranch, which is in the Houston area, and in Alice, Texas. We’ve grown and made a name for ourselves in desalination, and we’ve strived to make desalination affordable. We got into construction and operations because we can produce a project more cost effectively than is possible with the conventional design-bid-build method. We prefer to do design-build; it allows us to be in control of the project and costs as well.


Bill Norris: I graduated from Texas A&M with a degree in civil engineering; my first job was with the City of Dallas’s water utilities in 1977; I worked there for about 6 years. In 1981, I got my professional license. In 1983, I took a job with an East Texas consulting firm called Kindle, Stone, and Associates. I moved from Dallas to Longview, and a year later moved to Harlingen, Texas, to run the office the firm was opening in South Texas along the border. From that point, I became a minor partner with the company. In 1988, two of the partners, Rice and Stone, and I bought Kindle, Stone’s Arlington and Texarkana offices and called it NRS, or Norris, Rice, and Stone. We did our first desalination project in 1988. That project involved desalinating 2 million gallons of wastewater effluent a day and delivering it to Fruit of the Loom, which was bringing 3,000 jobs to South Texas. We provided water to its bleaching and dyeing operation; the plant then returned its wastewater back to us, and we treated and discharged it. It won the National League of Cities’ Award for Innovation and put us on the map for desalination. We’ve completed several desalination projects in South Texas. The one we designed for the Southmost Regional Water Authority in Brownsville is the largest water-producing project in Texas, treating 10 million gallons a day. Even though the desalination

plants in El Paso and San Antonio are larger in size, Southmost treats more water on an annual basis, so I consider it the highest-producing brackish desalination plant in Texas. In 2008, NRS was acquired by Abengoa, a Spanish company. After 4 years, Abengoa gave the company back. We had basically the same Bill Norris. leadership as we did when we were purchased, but we had to change the name to NorrisLeal. We couldn’t use the name NRS because Abengoa had basically dissolved it, having purchased the name, and it wasnt interested in doing what we were doing. For the last 6 years, we’ve been NorrisLeal. One of my current partners, JesÚs Leal, was also one of my partners at the end of my time at NRS.

Joshua Dill: How do you make desalination more affordable? Are you mainly referring to construction costs, or are there other factors like reducing energy use?

Joshua Dill: When you first got involved in desalination in 1988, was it already a common practice, or were you pioneers?

Bill Norris: Our construction methods, in terms of technology, are pretty standard, although we use higherefficiency membranes and energy recovery within the plant. The way we save money is that we know what it takes to put a plant together, so we don’t hire a general contractor with a higher markup. If we don’t construct it ourselves, we bid multiple contracts on behalf of the municipal owner and then manage those contracts, controlling the project time and costs.

Bill Norris: We were pioneers. No one was doing this in Texas on a major scale. I like to say that we got into desalination before desalination was cool. Being the first entrants into a niche market can be difficult, though. At times of abundant rainfall, people don’t necessarily seek out brackish desalination or alternative water supplies. Then you become an average engineering firm that just does streets, drainage, and conventional water plants.

Joshua Dill: How do you find your projects? Is it through public bids?

Bill Norris: Most of the time, we work with the Water Development Board and other agencies in the State Water Plan. A lot of these entities are looking for alternative water sources, particularly during times of drought. Right now, Texas’s reservoirs are full, but it doesn’t take more than 2–3 years of drought to deplete the state’s stored surface water. We are blessed to have clients contact us because of our reputation and the relationships we have made over the last 30 years. For some of our clients, brackish desalination is cheaper than what they’re currently doing; other times, regulatory requirements force them to change their existing water supplies. To give you an example, the City of Alice buys its raw water from Corpus Christi at $1.03 per 1,000 gallons. It loses approximately 50 percent of that in seepage and evaporation, so in effect 1,000 gallons cost $2.06. Then it has to treat it, which costs even more. If the city builds a brackish desalination plant, we estimate that its costs would be about $2.25 per 1,000 gallons turnkey—debt, service and operations. The city could save anywhere from 50 to 75 cents per 1,000 gallons. In that particular case, it’s cheaper for the city to build a new project than to stick with the status quo. The municipality of Cinco Ranch, outside of Houston, is required to stop drawing water from the upper aquifer because of subsidence. By building a desalination plant, we can help Cinco Ranch draw from an even deeper source of brackish water with a clay confining layer, which lies at a depth of about 3,000 feet. Drawing from this water source is not expected to affect subsidence. The municipality can take that water without paying the pumping fees charged by the groundwater district, whereas it may cost the municipality around $4.00 per 1,000 gallons to pump from the upper aquifer, even though that water doesn’t need to be treated. The municipality may save $2 million a year just by building this facility, which will be able to treat 2 million gallons a day.

Joshua Dill: How did you come to realize in the late 1980s that desalination was a viable path?

Bill Norris moderates a panel at the Texas Desalination Association’s 2015 conference.

Southmost Regional Water Authority’s brackish desalination plant, built in 2004 and expanded in 2015.


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The Enviro Water Minerals Full Recovery Desalination Plant in El Paso, Texas.


source water. A lot of the facilities in Texas today produce water at $3 or more per 1,000 gallons. Joshua Dill: How has desalination technology changed in the 30 years that you’ve been in the business? Bill Norris: The membranes used in reverse osmosis have become more efficient for their size; they don’t clog as easily. We’ve learned a lot about pretreating the water before sending it through the membranes, which makes them last longer. We have also made advances in energy recovery, where we boost pressure on the second stage of the reverse osmosis system instead of wasting the energy. When we were designing the Southmost Regional brackish groundwater plant in 2003, the price of the recovery equipment was not cost effective, but during construction, the price dropped by half, so we added a change order to add the devices. This decreased the horsepower requirements. That’s made brackish desalination more cost effective over the past 10 years. Joshua Dill: Please tell us about the full recovery plant you constructed in El Paso. Bill Norris: El Paso is served by the Kay Bailey Hutchinson brackish desalination plant. The Enviro Water Minerals Full Recovery Desalination Plant takes the brine byproduct from the Kay Bailey Hutchinson plant, adds additional brackish water so that there is enough concentrate to treat,


Bill Norris: Sometime in the early to mid-1980s, I read an article about a brackish desalination project in Florida. At the same time, I reflected that in South Texas the Rio Grande was overallocated and that eventually an alternate supply would be needed. I took a couple of officials from the City of Brownsville to look at some of the brackish desalination plants in Florida, but no immediate action resulted. Sometime after that, in 1995, Texas was going through a mild drought. The Brownsville Public Utilities Board, the major owner of Southmost Regional Water Authority, asked us to seek out some research grant funds from the Texas Water Development Board to do a pilot study to see if brackish desalination would be feasible in South Texas. The study showed it to be viable. Then it rained again, so desalination went back on the back burner, but it was known to be viable if needed. About 5 years later, Texas went through another, more serious drought. It was almost an emergency. In 2000, we were authorized to investigate a large-well-field brackish system. In 2004, we started up what was at the time the largest brackish desalination plant in Texas for Southmost Regional Water Authority in Brownsville. We had planted a seed 10 years before we did anything. We teamed up with an expert in the field and came up with a way to construct desalination plants that was much more cost effective than what others in Texas were doing. The cost of our water supplies ran from about $1.50 to $2.20 per 1,000 gallons, depending on what was in the

and then uses it to create different products, including hydrochloric acid, caustic soda, magnesium hydroxide, and gypsum. Clean water is also produced and sent back to the city. There’s no waste product, hence the term full-recovery desalination. We were contracted to operate it as well. It’s in commissioning mode right now. Joshua Dill: Is brine disposal a major challenge? Bill Norris: Inland, it is. The disposal of brine or concentrate on the coast is easier: There, it can be discharged into a drainage ditch or a tributary that ultimately goes out into the ocean. Inland, discharging it into a freshwater body that people drink downstream is not ideal. It is not hazardous per se, but it adds more salt to that water. In inland locations like El Paso, they either have to inject the brine into a deep well or evaporate it. Evaporation is a bit easier in the desert, but it does add a substantial cost. Joshua Dill: What is the public opinion about desalination? Does the public support it? Bill Norris: I think that people who know about desalination support it. People who are unsure of what it is tend to be a bit more skeptical. Education is key. In my presentations to our legislators, I find that even people who are in the know don’t have all the relevant information. For example, they may have the notion that desalination is always more expensive than other options. In reality,

desalination is often more cost effective than the alternatives, especially when we’re talking about brackish water, which is less salty than seawater and thus cheaper to treat. A lot of people think that desalination only uses seawater, which is more expensive to treat. There is also a lot of variation in the brine or concentrate that is created during the desalination process. We often use the term brine, but brine is classified as very-highsalt-content water like what is produced in an oilfield. Technically, brine has 100,000 parts per million of total dissolved solids (commonly referred to simply as salt). What a brackish or seawater desalination plant produces does not reach that level. The concentrate produced by a brackish plant probably has only 12,000 parts per million. That makes it less costly to dispose of. Joshua Dill: Please tell us about your vision for NorrisLeal. Bill Norris: We are interested in being a turnkey suppliercontractor-engineer. Our plan is to continue to make desalination more affordable. The more we control the cost, the better off we are with implementing projects. We have educated various clients on alternative delivery. We think that as we grow, we will develop into a major contributor of affordable desalination, not only in Texas but in the country at large. M Bill Norris is a principal at NorrisLeal. He can be reached at or at (512) 983-1449. MUNICIPALWATERLEADER.COM

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Averting Catastrophe, Seizing Opportunity: The Salton Sea Authority

The shores of the Salton Sea.


Joshua Dill: Please tell us about your background and how you came to be in your current position. Phil Rosentrater: I arrived in Southern California fresh out of college with a background in chemistry and political science. I soon came to realize the importance of water in this arid environment. Through my work in campaigns and communications, I developed a deep affinity for water issues in the Southwest. For the decade prior to being recruited to work at the Salton Sea, I served as the external affairs director for Western Municipal Water District in Southern California. Western is both a wholesale and retail water supplier to a


population of 880,000 people in a 527-squaremile portion of rapidly growing western Riverside County. Because the agency has little water of its own, most of its supplies are imported both from the State Water Project and the Colorado River. I had the privilege to be involved in a successful effort to diversify the water portfolio by Phil Rosentrater, general manager and developing new sources executive director of the Salton Sea from stormwater Authority. capture, groundwater recharge, desalination, and recycled water use. Developing a resilient, integrated portfolio requires an awareness of the complexity of water supply and strong, diplomatic relations with a broad range of partners. I led the charge in successfully protecting the district’s financial resources from external threats while also working with a team to capitalize our projects with significant state and federal investments. As I built a reputation for tireless coalition building and affecting policy at the local, regional, state and federal levels, leaders from the Riverside County approached me with a challenging proposition. The Riverside County supervisors, who serve with other elected regional leaders on the board of the SSA, were increasingly alarmed by a looming disaster on the Salton Sea. They decided that the SSA needed someone with my skillset who was willing to drive change by developing overlooked local resources to accomplish a sustainable, prosperous solution for the long term. I parachuted into the economic-


he Salton Sea is California’s largest lake, located at the lowest point of the Colorado River basin, 235 feet below sea level. Fed primarily by agricultural drainage flows from the crops of the Coachella Valley and constantly concentrated by evaporation, the sea is nearly twice as salty the ocean. That intense salinity is only increasing now that flows into the sea are reducing, killing wildlife and damaging a major waterfowl habitat. The lake itself is shrinking, too—exposing salty, dusty sediments that threaten to form dust storms that could damage valuable crops and human health. With this in mind, managing the Salton Sea has become an urgent priority. In 1993, local governments and private land and water agencies teamed up to create the Salton Sea Authority (SSA), a joint powers authority tasked with coordinating the efforts of local stakeholders, the state, and federal agencies to avoid catastrophe and redevelop the Salton Sea in a positive direction. In this interview, Phil Rosentrater, general manager and executive director of the SSA, speaks with Municipal Water Leader Managing Editor Joshua Dill about the complex situation around the Salton Sea and how it can be developed for the ecological and economic benefit of California and the American Southwest.

development side of the house to channel those resources and build those partnerships. Joshua Dill: Please tell us about the SSA. Phil Rosentrater: The SSA was founded in 1993 by the consent of the partnering agencies who realized that the challenge of Salton Sea revitalization is larger than any single entity can address on its own. It is a joint powers authority empowered by State Law AB-71 to work in consultation and cooperation with the California Natural Resources Agency (CNRA) on plans to revitalize the Salton Sea. The SSA comprises the two major land-use agencies where the Salton Sea is located, Riverside and Imperial Counties; the two major Colorado River–water importing agencies, Imperial Irrigation District and Coachella Valley Water District; and one of the major local landholders, the Torres-Martinez Tribe of Cahuilla Indians. Joshua Dill: You referred to the situation on the Salton Sea as a looming disaster. Would you tell us about the situation there and what caused it? Phil Rosentrater: First, let me describe the Salton Sea. It is California’s largest lake, and is a terminal lake with no outlet. It is located at the second-lowest elevation in the United States, after the basin of Death Valley. The Salton Sea has ebbed and flowed over the eons, with its water coming primarily from Colorado River storm flows. The delta created between the sea and the Gulf of California, also known as the Sea of Cortés, is composed of sediment that washed out of the Grand Canyon, among other sources. From 1824 to 1904, the Colorado River flooded the valley at least eight times. The sea in its current form, with a surface area of 343 square miles, was created in 1905 when El Niño storm flows on the Colorado River roared through a breach in one of the irrigation canals and continued flowing for a year and a half. In the decades that followed, agriculture developed around the sea, enhanced by executive orders by President Coolidge in 1924 and 1928 designating the Salton sink a federally recognized agricultural drainage area. To this day, the sea is sustained by ag flows from the surrounding cropland, which is irrigated by Colorado River water. Both the water from the Colorado and the agricultural drainage, which essentially rinses the area’s farm soil to maintain its agricultural viability, contains a fair amount of salt. That salt ends up in the Salton Sea and concentrates there as the water evaporates in the high heat. Due to reduced flows, the salinity of the Salton Sea is rapidly approaching twice that of ocean water. The Salton Sea eventually became a major nesting ground for a massive and diverse population of birds migrating along the Pacific Flyway. At its high point, more than two-thirds of the known species of migratory waterfowl in North America were known to spend some of their lives in the Salton Sea,

where they fed on fish and insects. A lot of them are fisheating birds that feed on tilapia, which grow in the millions in the sea. As the salinity of the Salton Sea rises, food sources like tilapia are stressed and left unable to reproduce. This leaves migratory birds that spend part of the winter at the sea hard pressed to survive. Not only is the salinity rising, the total volume of water in the sea is actually shrinking. This is a consequence of the largest ag-to-urban water transfer in U.S. history. The amount of Colorado River water allotted to agencies in California was reduced to 4.4 million acre-feet in 2003 as part of an agreement called the Quantification Settlement Agreement (QSA). California had been taking more water than it was actually entitled to: In years in which other lower Colorado River basin states didn’t use all of their water, California took it, rather than let it drift unused into the Gulf of California. When states like Nevada and Arizona grew to the point that they needed their full allotment of water, California was ordered to cut back to within its allotted 4.4 million acrefeet a year. In order to manage these limited water resources, agricultural irrigators transferred large amounts of water to urban users—meaning that some of the water that once flowed into the irrigation areas around the Salton Sea now bypass it and go to the coast—while the State of California agreed to mitigate and restore the portions of the sea that would be affected by the transfer. The challenge caused by the shrinkage and increased salinity of the Salton Sea is threefold. The exposure of significant portions of emissive lakebed, or playa, could lead to dusty soil becoming airborne, posing an enormous potential threat to human health. There is also a threat to animal habitat on an international scale, given the intercontinental reach of the Pacific Flyway. Those two threats also pose a serious economic threat to the region. The immediate threat is to the $2 billion-a-year agricultural industry, which supplies two-thirds of the winter produce consumed in America, plus the $6 billion-a-year tourism industry in the Coachella Valley, which is home to some of the finest golf and tennis resorts, equestrian facilities, and outdoor concert events to be found in America. If no action is taken, those economic resources are at risk of being hit by dust storms from 100 square miles of emissive playa. A situation in which dust storms cover the area’s crops and threaten the food security of the United States would be a disaster extending far beyond the Salton Sea. Likewise, if winds rage through the region—which does happen from time to time—the dust from an untreated lakebed could threaten the health of tens of millions of people living in the Los Angeles air basin. The good news is that plenty of water still comes into this area, allowing us to cover those dusty areas if we are careful stewards of funding and hydrology. SSA agencies and partners at the state level have learned from both the successes and failures of similar entities and projects around the world. We have a pretty good idea of what will work, and MUNICIPALWATERLEADER.COM

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The Salton Sea.

we have a set of resources around the Salton Sea that we can harness and integrate into a solution that will sustain and transform the region into a healthier, more prosperous future.

the middle, where it is lower. In that way, the limited inflows will be used to wet the dusty soil; restore habitat; and, where feasible, create some recreational areas.

Joshua Dill: Will the overall solution involve increasing regular flows of water into the sea?

Joshua Dill: What are the SSA’s top priorities right now?


Phil Rosentrater: As always, the SSA’s top issue is maintaining cooperation among its member agencies, between the SSA and the State of California, and among those entities and the State of California and our federal partners. Multiple jurisdictions overlay the Salton Sea; our challenge is to address the concerns of all those partners in a fair and equitable manner and with consistency and consensus. That is a goal that has not been easily achieved over the last 3 decades. That was, in my view, the primary impediment to progress. As we gained a more solid coalition of people who were willing to talk and compromise and seek common solutions, we have found a path forward. Once we developed feasible plans, we needed to find a way to fund them. That is the point we are at now. We have a 10-year plan and projects in the pipeline that have been agreed to by the locals who comprise the SSA, the NGOs and the environmental groups, and the CNRA. Our challenge is to fulfill the mandate of State Law AB-71, which calls on the CNRA to work in cooperation and consultation with the SSA on matters pertaining to the restoration of the Salton Sea. That requires a lot of coordination. In November 2017, the State Water Resource Control Board formally adopted the SSMP, which had been hammered out by the state and the partner agencies of the


Phil Rosentrater: Increasing water flows to the sea is a tough proposition in watersheds challenged by drought, and the Colorado River basin, of which the Salton Sea is the lowest point, is currently suffering one of the longest and most severe droughts of modern history. That means that water use efficiency is paramount. That said, if this region is going to continue to produce two-thirds of all the winter crops in the United States, irrigation water will still need to flow to the fields, and that will drain into the sea. The human population of the area will also require water. The challenge then becomes deciding how best to use and manage the flow of drain water into the sea. The future agricultural production in the basin is estimated to drain around 750,000 acre-feet of water a year. Currently, the state’s Salton Sea Management Plan (SSMP) calls for capital investment to install levees that will impound those flows before they drain all the way to the lowest point of the hypersaline brine sink. These measures will create a stable shoreline, covering the otherwise exposed playa, and restore some habitat. There will be less water, but we don’t necessarily need to fill the entire water column across the entire lake. The SSMP design foresees terrace ponds extending down from the outer edges of the sea, where the elevation is higher, to

SSA, and a performance schedule defined in a stipulated order. A total of $280.5 million has been directed to the 10-year projects of the SSMP. Now it is time to start implementing. Joshua Dill: What are some of the planned projects? Phil Rosentrater: The immediate solutions are projects that intercept flows at the main tributary points around the Salton Sea. There are three of these: the New and the Alamo Rivers on the south end of the sea, which are mostly composed of ag drainage, and the Whitewater Storm Channel on the north end, which delivers ag drainage and some treated domestic wastewater. The SSMP calls for levees that would impound some of this water to create habitat to sustain the Pacific Flyway and to cover stretches of dusty lakebed. Those projects are designed in a manner that allows for their replication and expansion around the shoreline. We also have the opportunity to rehydrate some of the once-thriving marina communities around the lake. This will also produce deep water habitat that can sustain portions of the Pacific Flyway. The levees would follow the shoreline, in some cases more than a mile offshore. The concept is to establish the first phases of a smaller but healthier lake at the points where the main tributaries enter the sea. Once those backbone components are built, additional segments and phases can be built out in incremental fashion around the edge of what is being called the Perimeter Lake. Joshua Dill: Please tell us about how the Salton Sea affects California as a whole. Phil Rosentrater: It goes beyond California—it affects the entire American Southwest and parts of Mexico. Any arrangement that transfers water out of the Salton Sea basin potentially exacerbates the shrinkage of the lake, worsening health threats across Southern California and into Mexico, endangering the international Pacific Flyway, weakening America’s winter food supply, and causing economic damage that extends far beyond the sea. This must be taken very seriously. Those who seek such transfers need to acknowledge that there will be consequences. Sometimes those consequences can be mitigated. The state’s current SSMP places a premium on mitigation. We think that we have a sensible, achievable, actionable path forward that is not ridiculously costly or punitive. It’s taken years to get here, but we are on that trajectory. Joshua Dill: Please tell us about the resources that the SSA can develop as part of its plans. Phil Rosentrater: From the perspective of developing resources, progress begins at the Salton Sea at the moment when one recognizes the sea as an asset and an opportunity, not a liability. Let me give you a couple of examples. The Salton Sea was at one time the number-one tourist attraction in the State of California, exceeding Yosemite in its number

of annual visitors. The recreational economy of the Salton Sea can be restored, not perhaps to the full extent of its heyday, but substantially. We can actually restore fishing, boating, and recreational activities by rehydrating marina communities. That will increase property values and the property tax base. That revenue can then be captured and directed to debt service on the very infrastructure bond that will create the benefit. Over time, that development will increase the sales of boats, restaurants, hotels, and so on. That generates sales tax, bed tax, and other revenue sources that can be captured and directed to maintenance. This is a realistic scenario. Riverside County has successfully used this financing mechanism, known as redevelopment, for decades. On the southern end of the sea is the largest commercially viable geothermal energy source in North America. Numerous power plants are already operating there, with potential for expansion to create a carbon-free, 24/7 reliable energy source that can power a modern economy. Someday, this giant power supply may be tapped, sustaining the southwestern United States not just with enhanced water security but with baseload supply. In recent years, we’ve learned that the geothermal brines themselves are chock-full of valuable metals and minerals, specifically lithium. Rising worldwide demand for computers, cell phones, and electric cars generates demand for lithium batteries. A mineral that once presented an operations and maintenance problem for the geothermal industry at the Salton Sea may become a resource that contributes to the sea’s long-term sustainability. Likewise, the agricultural flows that sustain the sea also contain substances once thought to be problematic. Fertilizers in ag drains occasionally grow algae in the sea on a scale found nowhere else in the United States. When one considers that algae is a prime feedstock for biofuel, it may also reliably supplement carbon-neutral fuels. Algae may someday be deployed in ponds around the sea to bioremediate the fertilizers, producing cleaner water for habitat while generating feedstock for biofuel, and all the while helping improve air quality by covering the dusty playa. Our strategy is to drive consensus on pragmatic projects around the sea that harness overlooked resources currently mischaracterized as waste, and to transform a promising asset dismissed as a hopeless cause and an endless liability into a dynamic engine for recovery. The SSA and its partner agencies have demonstrated the will to create consensus and to work cooperatively with state and federal partners. As we continue to integrate our scarce resources in pragmatic, achievable steps forward, we have the makings of a much healthier and more prosperous future for the Salton Sea. M Phil Rosentrater is the general manager and executive director of the Salton Sea Authority. He can be contacted at


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Oceanus’s Hybrid Pumped-Storage Desalination Facility


esalination plants typically deal with two major problems: the desalination process requires a large amount of energy, and it results in a large amount of brine, which is difficult to get rid of and can be harmful to the natural environment. Oceanus Power and Water has discovered an innovative solution to both of these problems: combining a pump-storage facility, which stores power in the form of elevated water that can be used to drive turbines, with a desalination facility. Gravity power alone can dramatically reduce the energy demands of the desalination process. Moreover, the resulting brine can be reinjected into the stored seawater as it is released back into the ocean, diluting it on site. In this interview, Neal Aronson, the founder and chief executive officer of Oceanus, speaks with Municipal Water Leader Managing Editor Joshua Dill about his company’s energysaving, environmentally friendly concept, and the design of its planned facilities. Joshua Dill: Please tell us about your background and how you came to be in your current position.



Neal Aronson: My background is in real estate, particularly in the development of large master-planned communities and projects in the western United States. I did that for about 25 years on and off. We did everything from new town development to greenfield development to resorts. We dabbled in offices, entertainment, and residential developments. I ended up as the chief financial officer of the company I worked for. Around the time of the great recession, I decided to move into energy development. In the last few years of my work in real estate development, we were greening all our projects with solar and wind energy and water conservation, so I had been exposed to a lot of the new energy initiatives, especially those in California. As you can imagine, when you develop large projects, you have to construct all the energy, water, and wastewater infrastructure. The last few years of my work in real estate development focused a lot on those aspects of our projects. In 2012, I moved into solar energy and worked on a solar development in Northern California. Solar is basically just another asset class of land development. It was interesting work. I had a project located on federal land adjacent to a large water storage facility—a pumped-storage facility that was operated for water supply rather than for energy

generation. The juxtaposition of the two and the obvious and growing need for solar energy and storage in California made me think. I’m from Silicon Valley, with Tesla in the backyard, so to speak, so I was exposed to batteries early in my Neil Aronson. energy education. I quickly concluded that while batteries are great for cars, for short-term corporate or industrial needs, and even sometimes for residential consumers, they are not appropriate for grid-scale storage. In addition, they are expensive and will probably remain so for years to come, they have a limited life cycle, and they’re environmentally hazardous. The idea of developing a pumped-storage facility in California was intriguing to me. The general concept of a pumped-storage system is like that of any battery: the storage of electricity for later use. Rather than use a reversible chemical reaction to store the electricity, as is typical of a solid-state battery, a pumped-storage system uses off-peak and surplus electricity to pump seawater to a higher elevation where it is stored until required. When there is demand for electricity, seawater is released from this elevated storage reservoir to flow downhill through the penstocks to the powerhouse, where it drives a turbine coupled to an electrical generator to produce electricity. My background in large projects made me eager to develop a facility like this in California. I ran across a seawater pumped-storage project that had been developed on the Japanese island of Okinawa around the turn of this century. It proved that you could put a pumped-storage facility on the ocean, with the ocean being your lower reservoir, and successfully manage the corrosion and biofouling caused by seawater. That was an inspiration. There is a lot of coastline around the world in semiarid regions, including in California, that could provide a good location for this sort of facility.


An illustration of Oceanus’s concept for a pumped-storage desalination facility.

We started looking at coastal locations in California. During that journey, we stumbled on the idea of integrating seawater desalination into the facility. If you’re going to pull water out of the ocean, we thought, why not use it as many times as you can? That was our epiphany moment. We shared the idea with some consulting engineering folks we knew, and they quickly confirmed that this could work. Colocating a seawater pumpedstorage facility and a seawater desalination facility could significantly reduce capital costs. As we dug into it further, the operational benefits of integration became clearer as well. We thought we had something, so in mid-2014, I started to focus 100 percent of my attention on what then became Oceanus Power and Water. Joshua Dill: Please tell us how your concept works and what sets it apart from other desalination facilities. Neal Aronson: We take seawater out of the ocean using large, efficient pump turbines, move it around 300 meters up a hill, and store it there. That is the basic concept of pumped storage. Typically, you use low-cost energy to do that. As a storage facility, it is connected to the grid, which allows it to use curtailed solar or wind energy or energy at off-peak times. The growth of solar and wind energy throughout the country and the world has put on its head the idea that power is cheap at night and expensive during the day. In California, some of the cheapest power is available at midday when solar energy facilities are powered up. In fact, that energy is being dumped—there is too much of it. A pumpedstorage facility would do very well at that time of day. Once the water is at the top of the reservoir, we can use it in two ways. We can return it down the penstocks and generate power. That’s a pretty standard approach to

pumped storage. However, we will also deliver some of the water into our reverse-osmosis desalination facility. Based on our engineering work, we believe that the head of the water at 300 meters will have enough hydrostatic energy—enough gravity, if you will—to push through the reverse-osmosis membranes without requiring any additional energy. Because we are not converting that pumped-storage energy into electrical energy, and because we are using highly efficient pumps to energize that water in the first place, we can dramatically reduce the amount of energy needed for desalination. Typical desalination plants use 3–5 kilowatt-hours per cubic meter of water treated. Our facility can reduce that to approximately 2 kilowatt-hours per cubic meter. As far as we know, no one has built any facilities like this yet, but we have a couple in development. On top of that, because we’re a pumped-storage facility buying cheap energy, we can use that same cheap energy for desalination. Most desalination plants are grid tied, using a tariffed energy rate. Because our facility could be considered a wholesaler, we can decouple our energy costs from grid-tariffed rates. We will then use the lower-cost energy from our pumped-storage facility, which reduces the energy cost for the desalination facility. So we use less energy and lower-cost energy. That will allow us to deliver what we believe is the lowest-cost desalinated

“Typical desalination plants use 3–5 kilowatt-hours per cubic meter of water treated. Our facility can reduce that to approximately 2 kilowatt-hours per cubic meter.” — Neal Aronson

water on the market. Also, the environmental footprint of our facility will be dramatically smaller than that of traditional desalination facilities. Desalination facilities typically use a lot of energy, and it’s typically expensive energy and carbon-based energy. We are focused on using emissions-free renewables wherever possible. We have also focused on avoiding any hard rock drilling, which is typically a very costly part of constructing a pumped-storage facility. We are using surface-mounted penstocks, which cost less and imply a lower risk of geology issues. We’re reducing the capital expenditure associated with pumped storage, which also allows us to deliver what we believe are the lowest-cost energy storage services on the market today—way lower than batteries. MUNICIPALWATERLEADER.COM

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BUSINESS LEADER Joshua Dill: What kind of recovery rate can your desalination facility deliver in terms of the water-to-brinedischarge ratio? Neal Aronson: Once we release the water down the penstock and push it through the desalination facility, we’re just like any other desalination facility, and we have comparable recovery rates. Those rates are tied to the salinity of the source water. The Pacific Ocean has fairly standard salinities. The Red Sea or the Sea of Cortés have higher salinities. The recovery rates are usually around 50 percent.

“In today’s world of climate change and changing weather patterns, and with the growth of renewable energy around the world, Oceanus can help in the transition to a clean-energy economy and more climate-resilient and secure infrastructure.” — Neal Aronson Joshua Dill: How is the brine discharge disposed of ? Neal Aronson: The brine created by desalination plants is typically difficult to dispose of and creates a toxic marine environment around the facility. There was a recent academic study that talked about the quantity and effect of brine from desalination plants globally. It is pretty dramatic. We have a solution for eliminating that effect on the marine environment. We reinject our brine discharge into our pumped-storage outflow, thereby diluting it back almost to ambient salinity before it hits the marine environment. We do that by storing the brine and injecting it into the outflow of the pumped-storage facility when it is in generation mode. It dilutes almost in situ and reduces the effect of that heavy brine to effectively zero. We believe that by using this method, we can comply with the California Ocean Plan, which we believe is the most stringent ocean discharge regulation in the world. Joshua Dill: Who are the customers you foresee working with? Neal Aronson: We have a project in Mexico in the state of Sonora on the Sea of Cortés. On the energy side, we plan to work with the Mexican national electrical company, CFE. The water side could also be Mexican water companies like CONAGUA or CEA. We’re also looking seriously at delivering water from Mexico up to the lower basin states of the Colorado River on the U.S. side of the border, which


would require a long conveyance line to deliver into the rivers’ interconnection. We’re also looking at a project in the country of Chile in which we would be delivering water to a municipal water agency and energy to one of the large energy companies in Chile. Joshua Dill: How do you see foresee financing the construction of these facilities? Neal Aronson: We believe our system can scale down to a very small size and still provide the same economic and environmental benefits. From the financing perspective, the solutions that we’re offering are for large government or municipal water agencies or credit-backed water agencies. We’re looking at take or pay contracts both in water and in energy. Having two revenue streams allows us to create a strong financing structure for these projects. But it can also be a source of additional risk, depending on who the offtakers are. We look at each market carefully to determine the particular size of the water or energy component and who the offtakers are in order to determine the financial structure. Joshua Dill: Please tell us about your vision for your company. Neal Aronson: In today’s world of climate change and changing weather patterns, and with the growth of renewable energy around the world, Oceanus can help in the transition to a clean-energy economy and more climate-resilient and secure infrastructure. As we’ve seen with storms, hurricanes, and earthquakes around the world, economies can be quickly disrupted. In cases like the situation in Puerto Rico, catastrophe can result from not getting energy and water systems back online quickly. Our resilient, secure facilities can strengthen regional grids. We’re excited about the opportunity to develop facilities in semiarid coastal regions around the world that are dealing with renewable growth and water supply constraints. Our goal is to be a global project development company, developing these facilities with the right financial partner owning and operating them for years to come. The life cycle of these plants is well over 50 years, so they are a great investment for infrastructure investors. M Neal Aronson is the president and chief executive officer of Oceanus Power and Water. For more information about Oceanus, visit

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How ROTEC Is Improving Desalination Technology Around the World


igh-recovery reverse osmosis (RO) is becoming a vital solution for both municipal and industrial water portfolios around the world. It is a reliable, drought-resilient water source that in many cases can be more affordable than importing new surface water. RO is also a critical component in the advanced treatment and reuse of municipal wastewater and the mitigation of seawater intrusion into groundwater aquifers. Historically, RO has been limited in application because of its low recovery rate—the ratio of treated water to feed water in the desalination process. In a system with a 75 percent recovery rate, for every 100 gallons of feed water that enter the system, 75 gallons of permeate are produced while the remaining 25 gallons are discharged as concentrated brine. For most inland RO operators, brine is complicated and costly to manage because of environmental restrictions and limited disposal options. That’s where ROTEC comes in. The Israeli company has developed a simple but highly effective Flow Reversal method, designed to significantly boost RO recovery while reducing cleaning frequency, chemical consumption, and overall system maintenance. In this interview, Ben Perlman, president of Smart Water Group, ROTEC’s strategic partner in the United States, speaks with Municipal Water Leader Managing Editor Joshua Dill about how ROTEC’s technology works and how it can help municipal and industrial clients face the water challenges of the future.


Joshua Dill: Please tell us about your background and how you came to be in your current position. Ben Perlman: It was not an obvious path. I graduated from the Wharton School of Business in 2006 with a fantastic degree but without a clear professional direction. So I did what many smart but directionally challenged young professionals do: I joined a local consulting firm. Consulting, as it turns out, is a business with huge highs and very low lows, and I didn’t enjoy the variability of the job. So after 3½ years in Philadelphia, I was yearning for something that would pique my intellectual curiosity and spark my entrepreneurial passion. In 2010, I moved to Israel and joined up with a group of water entrepreneurs working on some innovative approaches to wastewater treatment. Together, we started building a company called Water Fund Investment Group (WFI

Group), which invested in and managed some the brightest water startups in Israel. Today, we represent four of the leading water technology companies in Israel, specializing in a broad spectrum of water treatment methods, from highrecovery RO to decentralized wastewater reuse, selective filtration, and brineless nitrate reduction from groundwater. We have over 50 employees, three engineering offices, two manufacturing hubs, and a full-service research and development laboratory in Israel. It’s quite an operation! In addition to serving on the board of WFI Group, I’m the president of Smart Water Group, WFI’s commercial arm in the United States. My day-to-day work focuses on strategy and business development. We’re building relationships with consulting and engineering firms that are looking for innovative technologies to give them an edge over the competition. ROTEC is the newest member of our group, and we’re thrilled to be working together. Joshua Dill: Please tell us about ROTEC and what makes its technology so innovative. Ben Perlman: ROTEC’s innovation is based on a principle called Flow Reversal, which is designed to inhibit mineral scaling, the limiting factor in high-recovery operations. If you picture a normal RO pressure vessel with a number of membranes operating in a series, the final membrane will always receive the highest concentration of salt during the treatment process. Over time, mineral scaling will begin to precipitate on the final membrane, reducing flux and eventually requiring maintenance, chemical cleaning, and downtime. ROTEC overcomes this challenge by reversing the direction of the flow through the pressure vessel before the mineral scale begins to form, boosting flux and resolubilizing the salt in the process. By periodically reversing the flow, we reduce scaling and increase output, allowing ROTEC to operate at much higher recovery rates than conventional systems. If a standard two-stage RO system Ben Perlman, president of operates at Smart Water Group. MUNICIPALWATERLEADER.COM

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A ROTEC food and beverage installation in Chile.

A ROTEC wastewater reuse installation in Israel.

A Flow Reversal–retrofitted RO unit at Singapore’s Kranji facility.

Joshua Dill: Does your technology also lengthen the lifespan of the membranes themselves? Ben Perlman: Yes. Flow Reversal not only increases recovery, it decreases the frequency of clean in place (CIP), the method used to clean the interior of the membranes with chemicals. This makes sense, because the Flow Reversal process works as a self-cleaning mechanism, balancing the salt load across each pressure vessel. Flow Reversal is enabled by a series of smart controllers and automated valves, allowing any element of the system to undergo CIP while the rest of the system is operating at full capacity. Further, all of our systems have the ability to revert back to conventional operation without Flow Reversal, providing our customers with the peace of mind of knowing they have 100 percent fallback redundancy. It’s important to note that 99 percent of the time, our systems are operating just like conventional RO systems. Our process isn’t a major deviation from what our customers know today. This makes Flow Reversal easier for our customers to conceptualize and adopt.

Joshua Dill: So does your technology involve hardware that can be installed into existing systems? Ben Perlman: Flow Reversal is a brilliant process, but none of the hardware enabling this process is proprietary. This means that ROTEC can take a conventional RO system operating at 75 percent recovery and, with minimal capital investment, enhance it to industry-leading levels of 90 percent or more. The cost of performing a Flow Reversal retrofit is significantly lower than the cost of replacing the existing system, but the benefits are the same. For customers who have depreciated their existing assets but are looking to get more out of the infrastructure, this is a very attractive proposition. Between additional water production and brine volume reduction, the savings on a large system could be worth millions of dollars a year. Joshua Dill: Would you tell us about your experience finding clients in Israel and in the United States? Ben Perlman: The company was founded in Israel, so we have a good installment base in the surrounding region. We have done a wide variety of treatment applications with Flow Reversal technology, ranging from industrial reuse to ingredient water for foods and beverages to groundwater desalination projects in southern Israel, where the total dissolved solids measure can be as high as 8,000 parts per million. We have a great relationship with Suez in Spain, focused on industrial treatment in the food and beverage industry. We have completed a number of projects with Coca-Cola Worldwide and just completed our first project with Pepsi Group last year. We look forward to growing that account and expanding to other industrial applications like mining, power, and manufacturing. We are also involved in a number of exciting municipal reuse applications



75–80 percent recovery, ROTEC can deliver 90–95 percent recovery in the same footprint, with the same specific energy requirements. Not only does this translate to a 20 percent increase in permeate production, it also equates to a 60 percent reduction in brine volume, a major cost driver for inland treatment operations. More importantly, reduced brine volume opens up the door to new zero-liquiddischarge applications like thermal evaporation, which simply don’t pencil out in conventional treatment. ROTEC’s innovation is essentially a self-cleaning mechanism, enabling the system to operate at recovery levels well beyond normal parameters. It is a game changer for the industry.

around the world. We have a new wastewater reuse facility coming online this year at the Shafdan wastewater treatment plant in Tel Aviv, the largest and most advanced treatment plant in Israel. A portion of the secondarytreated wastewater will pass through ROTEC’s RO process for higher-quality industrial reuse applications. We also have a strong presence in Singapore, collaborating with the Public Utility Board (PUB), the country’s water and wastewater utility. Our involvement with PUB began in 2015, when we embarked on an ambitious pilot project at its Kranji facility. Instead of operating a standalone pilot, PUB asked us to retrofit a major component of its existing treatment plant, which was already producing millions of gallons of treated wastewater for drinking purposes. We retrofitted one-ninth of the plant, a 2,000-gallon-per-minute skid operating as a normal two-pass RO system, into a three-stage system incorporating Flow Reversal technology, without increasing the footprint. The retrofit itself took 10 days to complete, with only 4 days of system downtime. Once completed, the pilot ran at steady-state operations for 18 months, achieving an increase in recovery from 75 percent to 90 percent. As a result of our success in Kranji, we are now collaborating with Jacobs to integrate Flow Reversal into PUB’s TUAS Plant, the largest membrane bioreactor reuse facility in the world. PUB’s TUAS Plant is designed to recycle wastewater at myriad qualities, the highest of which is achieved through an advanced treatment process incorporating Flow Reversal, engineered for high-purity industrial reuse. ROTEC’s system at TUAS is designed for 30 million gallons a day and is capable of running at a recovery rate of up to 93 percent, among the highest in the world. These large-scale reuse projects have tremendous potential for the United States. Today, progressive states like California are already embracing municipal reuse, a cost-effective solution for alternative water supply. These solutions are going to become more pervasive around the world. Climate change, urbanization, population growth, and a rising standard of living are all putting pressure on water, the world’s most valuable nature resource. We all need to think smarter about water. ROTEC is one of many companies proactively addressing these issues, and we’re happy to do our part.


through the wringer, from super-saline groundwater treatment to complex industrial reuse. Our team is constantly challenging the technology and leveraging operating data to further refine the process. The result is a flexible, robust treatment system, operating at the highest recovery rate in the industry, combined with a process guarantee.

Joshua Dill: Does your process require higher energy use? Ben Perlman: Surprisingly, no. What we found when we incorporated Flow Reversal into an existing RO system was that the specific energy—the amount of energy consumed as a function of treated water volume—was exactly the same. We aren’t sacrificing energy—or chemicals or maintenance, for that matter—to produce more water. Joshua Dill: What is your message to our readers? Ben Perlman: There are a lot of customers out there that can benefit from high-efficiency reuse, and ROTEC plays an important role in this process. Our technology is keeping pace with the changes in expectations faced both by municipal and industrial clients whose communities and shareholders are demanding more innovative and sustainable water solutions. Before the wastewater reaches the RO process, customers are spending significant capital capturing and treating the water to a secondary level. It’s high-value water—so why not strive to recover every drop that’s economically feasible? This is the value that ROTEC is bringing to the industry. At the end of the day, our customers embrace ROTEC because they understand the importance of long-term water security, quality, and sustainability. The future of water reuse is 100 percent recovery, and ROTEC is a giant step in the right direction. M Ben Perlman is the president of Smart Water Group. He can be contacted at or by visiting

Joshua Dill: Do you need to take variations in water chemistry or geology into account when you are installing your technology in different areas of the world? Ben Perlman: Absolutely. It changes on a case-by-case basis, and for us, everything starts with high-quality data. Our group has been in the business for over a decade now and has run dozens of pilots, so it understands how variations in water chemistry, like iron and silica, affect the RO process. Over the years we have put our technology MUNICIPALWATERLEADER.COM

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One of EMWD’s existing desalination plants.


DISTRICT PROFILE responsibilities evolved, and in 2016 I was appointed to serve as the assistant general manager of planning, engineering, and construction at EMWD. Joshua Dill: Please tell us about EMWD’s history and services. Joe Mouawad: EMWD was established in 1950 and serves a population of over 800,000 people in western Riverside County, California, across a service area of approximately 555 square miles. The district serves seven cities as well as unincorporated portions of western Riverside County. EMWD is unusual in being both a retail and a wholesale agency providing water, wastewater, and recycled water services. EMWD is a recognized leader in its diverse and expansive use of recycled water. Joshua Dill: What is the source of EMWD’s water supply? Joe Mouawad: EMWD’s water resources portfolio consists of local as well as imported water supplies. Imported treated potable water from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California accounts for approximately 50 percent of EMWD’s demand. EMWD also operates two water filtration plants using membrane technology: the Perris Water Filtration Plant and the Hemet Water Filtration Plant. In addition to these freshwater filtration plants, EMWD also currently operates two desalination facilities that treat brackish groundwater. There are also multiple groundwater wells in the San Jacinto, Hemet, and Moreno Valley service areas. Recycled water provides approximately one-third of EMWD’s total annual demands; it is primarily used for agricultural and landscape irrigation.


Eastern Municipal Water District (EMWD) provides water, wastewater, and recycled water service to more than 825,000 people in Riverside County, California. For the past two decades, the district has supplemented its largely imported water supply by developing brackish water desalination plants. This year, the district will begin construction on a new desalination plant; when it comes online, EMWD aims to produce enough potable water through desalination to supply 30,000 households. In this interview, Joe Mouawad, EMWD’s assistant general manager of planning, engineering, and construction, speaks with Municipal Water Leader Managing Editor Joshua Dill about EMWD’s water supply and delivery challenges and why desalination is a cost-effective and beneficial solution. Joshua Dill: Please tell us about your background and how you came to be in your current position. Joe Mouawad: I have been serving the district for over 12 years. I began as director of engineering. My

Joshua Dill: What are your district’s top water supply and delivery challenges? Joe Mouawad: During extended periods of drought, EMWD faces water supply challenges in meeting peak summer demands. For that reason, we have strategically invested in local water supply resources, including desalination and a water banking program. We have also made significant investments in our recycled water program. Our “purple pipe” system delivers recycled water to a multitude of customers, including agricultural, commercial, industrial, and municipal water users. That helps offset EMWD’s imported water needs. Joshua Dill: Please tell me about your two existing desalination plants. Joe Mouawad: EMWD began planning the desalination program over two decades ago. Its first desalter, the Menifee desalter, commenced operation in 2002. It produces MUNICIPALWATERLEADER.COM

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DISTRICT PROFILE 3 million gallons per day of potable water from an otherwise nonpotable brackish aquifer. At the time, we also constructed several wells and a network of pipelines to collect and convey that brackish groundwater to the treatment facility. Our second facility, the Perris I desalter, commenced operation in 2005. It produces approximately 5 million gallons per day of potable water. Both of these treatment facilities use prefiltration, reverseosmosis technology, and disinfection. As a result of its desalination activities, EMWD generates a brine stream that is discharged via the Inland Empire Brine Line, which is operated by the Santa Ana Watershed Project Authority. The brine is conveyed to the Orange County Sanitation District for treatment and ultimately discharged to the ocean. Joshua Dill: Aside from adding to your water portfolio, what were the motivations for building those plants? Joe Mouawad: The expansion of EMWD’s desalination program benefits its customers in multiple ways. It is a local water supply, which means that it enhances EMWD’s resiliency during periods of drought. In addition, it provides for the export of salt from our service area, which allows for the continued expansion of our recycled water program. Recycled water is higher in salts, or total dissolved solids, than freshwater. As recycled water is used for irrigation, it can increase salt levels in local groundwater basins. The

desalination program offsets this salt loading. We have strategically located the extraction wells so that they are able to contain and prevent the migration of high-salinity groundwater into adjacent basins. Containment and treatment of brackish groundwater was a key consideration in successfully securing grant funding from the State Water Resources Control Board for the expansion of our program. Our desalination program provides a cost-effective water supply that is competitive with the cost of imported supplies. EMWD’s program has been supported over the last several years by local, state, and federal partners. The State Water Resource Control Board provided us with a $22.5 million grant to expand the program. On the local level, we have worked closely with the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California and have entered into a local resource program agreement whereby EMWD will receive a subsidy of $215 for every acre-foot of water produced by the proposed desalter over a 25-year period. That agreement has an approximate value of $29 million. We have also received funding from the Santa Ana Watershed Project Authority for the construction of groundwater wells. On the federal side, we have been fortunate to work closely with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. To date, the Army Corps has appropriated approximately $16.8 million in support of the program, which has allowed for the

Joe Mouawad, EMWD’s assistant general manager of planning, engineering, and construction.

construction of brackish groundwater wells and conveyance pipelines. An additional benefit of the program is the advancement of innovative technology designed to reduce the quantity of brine reject. We are currently testing a closedcircuit reverse-osmosis technology. If it is successful and cost effective, it could benefit the entire industry. Joshua Dill: How do you meet the energy needs of your desalination facilities? Joe Mouawad: We recently installed a solar array at the desalination complex that generates 1 megawatt of energy per day to offset the energy demands of the desalination facilities. We are currently looking at expanding that solar installation. Joshua Dill: Were there any difficulties in adding desalinated

EMWD’s planned desalination plants.




EMWD has been a longtime advocate for the research and development of advanced salt management technologies. With the leadership of our full board of directors, and with the commitment of EMWD staff, we are dedicated to the expansion of EMWD’s desalination program to meet the needs of our customers while also helping to protect natural resources. — EMWD Board President Ron Sullivan

water to your portfolio? Are there any restrictions on the use of desalinated water? Joe Mouawad: We wanted to make certain that this program was cost competitive with imported supply. The economics of the program had to make sense for our ratepayers. Our successful pursuit of external funding support from our local, state, and federal partners over the past few years has allowed us to expand the program. With the grant funding and subsidies we have been able to secure, it is a very cost-competitive program. Brine management is crucial. We have invested in research into technology that would reduce brine discharge. Joshua Dill: Please tell us about the new plant you have planned. How will it be different from your existing plants?

Joe Mouawad: In January 2019, our board of directors awarded a $49.9 million construction contract to Kiewit Infrastructure West for the construction of our new Perris II desalination plant. The facility will produce 5.4 million gallons a day of potable water. The membranes we will be using have a higher recovery rate than those in our existing operational facilities, which will allow for greater water output efficiency and lower generation of brine. The new plant will be adjacent to our existing desalination complex, which will allow us to build on and leverage existing infrastructure. That means significant capital cost savings as well as long-term operational and maintenance cost savings. Further, the electrical system, the piping system, and other key components of the new facility are designed to allow for the future expansion of the facility and to accommodate additional capacity. Joshua Dill: How much desalinated water will the district produce when the new facility comes on line? Joe Mouawad: We currently generate approximately 8,600 acrefeet per year. With the Perris II desalter, we will add another 6,000 acre-feet per year. Our objective is to produce enough potable water from our desalination program to supply 30,000 households in our service area. Joshua Dill: Please tell us about popular opinion in your service area regarding desalination. Joe Mouawad: The community is familiar with our program and has been supportive, especially given the periods of drought we have experienced. They value the expansion of our local water supply resources. One interesting thing is that when people who don’t know about our desalination program hear about it, they wonder if we have a pipeline coming from the ocean, which is more than 40 miles away. Once we explain

that we are using local supplies, not ocean water, they are enthusiastic about the fact that we’re reducing our reliance on imported water. We’ve always had an extensive public outreach program, and we’ve had several community meetings over the past few years to discuss this expansion specifically. We value the input we have received from our community and have incorporated that input into the design of the new facility. Joshua Dill: How does EMWD compare to neighboring districts in its use of desalinated water? Joe Mouawad: We’re on the leading edge of desalination initiatives. There are other agencies with similar programs, but our program not only uses the latest technologies but also invests in innovations that would have industrywide benefits. Over 20 years ago, our board of directors had the vision to support this innovative program, which will provide long-term benefits to our customers. Joshua Dill: What advice would you have for other districts that are interested in installing or expanding desalination facilities? Joe Mouawad: Planning is key, on several levels: Beyond the engineering and water supply planning, a district needs to engage in public outreach and education, as well as developing the partnerships with local, state, and federal agencies necessary to achieve the combined objectives of the district and its partners. In addition, the desalination program needs to deliver cost-effective water supply with long-term sustainable benefits to its customers. M Joe Mouawad is the assistant general manager of planning, engineering, and construction at EMWD. For more information about EMWD, visit MUNICIPALWATERLEADER.COM

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Eastern Municipal Water District continues with investments in its Groundwater Reliability Plus initiative by increasing desalination efforts.

By Spring 2021, with the commission of the Perris II Desalter, EMWD will increase its salt mitigation efforts by 100 percent.

Visit to learn more about EMWD’s desalination efforts as part of its Groundwater Reliability Plus initiative.


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